Stoners rejoice: Weedeater return to Brooklyn for the second time in a little over a month. Those who missed them at September’s Uninvited Festival (read: most local metalheads, as there was an unofficial underground shunning of that poorly-promoted event) in Gowanus can catch the North Carolinians this time at Saint Vitus. Like the band’s sound, the crowd is sure to be thick as a plume of dank-ass schwag–which is to say, crudely packed, a little grimy, but good enough for a buzz. Not to be missed are Lazer/Wulf, from Georgia, who are listed third on the bill of five bands. This instrumental prog metal trio enjoys math-y tricks in song and album structures but never at the expense of memorable grooves. Come for the braniacs; stay for the crunkness. With Full of Hell, Lazer/Wulf, Family (Brooklyn), and Tiger Flowers

Fri., Nov. 7, 8 p.m., 2014


Bound by Flesh Is a Cradle-to-Grave Portrait of Conjoined Twins

Just as video killed the radio star, celluloid ruined sideshow freaks. Whether cinema’s displacement of vaudeville and carnival attractions at the top of rural America’s entertainment heap was a positive development is up for debate in Leslie Zemeckis’s sympathetic but unambitious documentary Bound by Flesh, a cradle-to-grave portrait of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton.

The arc of the other Hilton sisters’ rise and fall — from their early heyday as one of the best-paid attractions of the Roaring Twenties to their ignoble last years eking out a living as small-town grocery-store clerks in North Carolina — should be familiar to anyone who’s wasted an afternoon watching cable specials about forgotten child stars. (Those E! True Hollywood Story installments arguably boast better production values.)

Zemeckis flattens the sisters’ eventful lives into the stuff of cheap weepies, complete with a Dickensian childhood, a Svengali-esque manager, and a desperate baring of clothes. One male biographer goes on for too long in his drooling conjectures about the logistics of the twins’ sex lives, making it clear that Zemeckis isn’t interested in offering a respectful study of discrimination against disability, but will indulge a bit in the circus appeal of her subjects.

If Bound by Flesh sorely lacks the perspective of the physically atypical community, it’s at least a fascinating look at the transformations in the entertainment industry in the last century. It never became improper to gawk at unusual-looking people, but audiences were taught to ignore deformity — and stare ahead only at beauty.


If You Build It Collects Rich Material But Builds a Rickety Structure

In If You Build It, a documentary about a high-concept high school product-design class in, of all places, rural North Carolina, director Patrick Creadon collects rich material but builds a rickety structure.

The program is Studio H, led by two enterprising, idealistic architects who are brought to rural Bertie County to inject new life into a stalled community’s educational system by a visionary superintendent of schools — who, early in the film, is canned by the stuck-in-the-mud school board, marking the last we see of him.

The board agrees to continue with Studio H only after the designers, Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, forego any salary. Creadon’s great strength here is in his unsentimental introduction of a slice of America often treated with sentimentality bordering on condescension.

These are real people working hard on a set of creative challenges that seem to have the potential to transform the students’ attitude toward school and work – and maybe even aid the community’s economic revitalization. But Creadon unveils his story in a haphazard, backwards-unfolding way.

Ultimately, the town is ecstatic about a farmers market designed and built by the Studio H classroom, and the kids are clearly affected by the experience. But it’s not clear what it means for their education or their lives. And, in the end, Emily and Matt pack up and take Studio H to Berkeley.


Betony’s Bryce Shuman On Hidden Gems and Eating Raw Seal

When Betony executive chef Bryce Shuman was a kid, his mother, an academic studying cultural anthropology, took him to live with the Inuit people in the Arctic for 13 months, where he ate thinly sliced frozen caribou and chunks of seal meat after a hunt. “It opened my world up,” he explains. “Food’s a big part of learning about people’s cultures.” He also accompanied his mother to Costa Rica, where he saw a guy on a bus smash an orange in his hands and stick a straw in it, and Crete, where he learned to make traditional tzatziki. “All of these food experiences kind of got under my skin,” he says.

But food didn’t become his means of making a living until later. When he didn’t get into the arts school of his dreams (he wanted to be an actor), he fell in love with the rhythm of the kitchen while washing dishes in North Carolina, eventually enrolling in culinary school and working his way through Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio and Rubicon in San Francisco before heading abroad to do time in kitchens in Europe. When he returned to the States, he trained in some top NYC kitchens, and he landed a job at Eleven Madison Park after he cooked chef Daniel Humm olive-oil-poached cod with a kohlrabi and parsley salad. “He pushed me harder than any other chef has ever pushed me,” Shuman says of his time there, where he eventually rose to executive sous chef.

Earlier this year, opportunity came knocking, and Shuman decided to join another EMP alum, Eamon Rockey, to open midtown’s Betony as the executive chef in May. “For me, this is the dream,” Shuman says. “This is it, my opportunity. It’s so important to me. I’ve been working since washing dishes in North Carolina just for this moment.”

In our interview, he weighs in on the versatility of the cake-tester, why acid is like the treble note of a chord, and his guilty love of Shake Shack.

Describe your culinary style. Modern American fine-dining cuisine. My inspiration comes from the ingredients, based on relationships with local suppliers and growers and artisans. I build relationships with those people, and I want to celebrate them.

What’s the most underrated kitchen tool? I think the cake tester is pretty amazing. You do so much with it: adjust things on a plate, check the internal temp of meats or the doneness of vegetables or whether the poached skin on the chicken is tender or not.

What’s the most underrated ingredient? Acid: lime juice or a simple white wine vinegar. I love brightness in food. All my sauces have a balance of acidity; they can’t just be a reduction of a chicken jus. It has to be heightened with acid to give it that brightness. When I’m tasting food, I’m always thinking about music. I’ll ask, “How does this chord work?” You need bass notes, mid notes, and trebles. Acidity is the high treble. It makes the chord sing.

What’s the most underrated restaurant in New York City? Eamon took me to this spicy Thai restaurant called Zabb Elee. Also this Chinese restaurant on Second Avenue on the Upper East Side called Wa Jeal. It was the weirdest neighborhood for an amazing Sichuan restaurant, and it is so frickin’ good. The tongue and tripe served cold with the spicy sauce? Forget about it.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? I have so many of them. Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream. Shake Shack burgers. I love to eat too much Thai or Sichuan Chinese—like so much that my stomach hurts. I like making carnitas tacos at my house and eating like 20.

What do you wish you could tell your line-cook self? Remain focused, remain interested, and keep pushing no matter how hard it gets, no matter how much you want to say, “That’s it, I’m done, I quit.” Keep your head down and get back on the horse. You’re going to get knocked down over and over. And taste your food, because someone else has to eat it.

What’s the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene? Keeping up. Things move fast and change quickly. You have to pay attention.

Describe your craziest night in the kitchen. The last night Frank Bruni dined at EMP, I was a sous chef on the meat station. Chef was there, plating right next to me. It couldn’t get any more intense, and we were busy as hell. Chef is plating, tasting, pushing and driving the team. It was awesome.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? Raw seal. It wasn’t weird when I ate it, but thinking back, it’s not necessarily something I’d go for again.

What’s next for you? To get this restaurant going. We’ve only been open for a few weeks. This is it.


Orange Goblin

Despite the obvious debt to pays to its ancestors, the vehemence with which Orange Goblin plays made their seventh LP, A Eulogy for the Damned, one of the better metal albums of 2012. Joining them are a few more bands nearing the top of their game: noisy sludge-metallers KEN Mode, who recently released the frenetic Entrench, and ASG, a North Carolina crew who fuse alternative-era melodies (with actual, your-mom-would-recognize-it singing!) on their forthcoming Blood Drive. It’s a metal showcase with no agenda, which might just be the point.

Mon., April 22, 8 p.m., 2013


The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards Review: How to Become a Person

What happens when F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Wes Anderson? Welcome to Kristopher Jansma’s debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, a literary fun house that follows an unreliable narrator on his quest to write the next Great American Novel. The opening lines warn, “I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written,” and what follows from there is a valiant, though at times tiresome and off-putting, attempt to show how he came to lose them, and find himself in the process.

After being raised by a struggling single mother in North Carolina, the unnamed protagonist winds up at a small liberal arts college, where he meets the eccentric, unstable Julian — his life-long writing rival — and the beautiful, aloof actress Evelyn — the girl he loves, or thinks he loves, but can never have. The first half of the novel revolves around the trials and blunders of the three characters as they go through school and try to make it in New York in the early 2000s. This might sound like the same tired old trope (a twenty-something sets off to the big city to pursue dreams of being a writer and it’s tough), but Jansma pulls this off without falling into the cliché. The narrator is round and surprising, and what makes him most interesting and entertaining isn’t his life as a writer, but as a person trying to figure his life out. Success can be a crapshoot. Life might feel terribly lonely in the rush of the metropolis. The strongest of friendships fall apart. The novel addresses these issues in a way that is at once entertaining and deeply thought-provoking, which is perhaps its greatest feat: As out-of-control and pathetic as Jansma’s characters are, we can see ourselves in them.

The second half of the novel, however, doesn’t live up to the first. It jumps forward a decade, bends genres, and we’re left with a sort of travel adventure book that feels radically different from what we just read. Jansma trades in the optimistic twenty-something writer for the downtrodden thirty-something failed writer, and this time he falls into the trope. The narrator runs off to a slew of far-flung destinations (Sri Lanka, Dubai, Ghana, Iceland, Luxembroug), where he tries to run away from himself, only to continue to bump into traces of what he left behind in New York. He’s haunted by his falling-out with Julian, who lives a J.D. Salinger-style life, publishing an international bestselling cult-classic and then vanishes. The question of disappearance is key for Jansma, who wonders to what extent we can disappear into the world of fiction to evade the struggles of being ourselves.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is about a boy becoming a writer; but, above all, it is about a writer becoming a person. When does the artist stop making art out of his own life and start living it? Where does fiction end and reality begin? The novel strikes a chord on questions of authenticity, love, and ambition, and it reminds us that life is often out of our control, even if we’re writing it down.


Laugh if You Like, Texas, but New York is Now a BBQ Capital

When I wrote in January that New York ‘cue is now among the best in the country, I meant it. But the backlash was swift. And harsh. @Underexposure tweeted: “. . . pit masters and BBQ devotees across Texas, North Carolina, Kansas City & Memphis all roll their eyes in unison.” Barbecue blogger Daniel Vaughn groused to the Houston Press, “They get a few joints with a decent brisket, and now NYC is a BBQ capital?” Even New Yorkers didn’t believe me. Meat man Josh Ozersky snorted on Twitter, “What that dope doesn’t know about barbecue could fill volumes.”

Ever since my college days in Texas, I’ve obsessed over tracking down the country’s greatest barbecues, logging thousands of miles to check out obscure pits in places like Paducah, Kentucky, and Hemingway, South Carolina. I’ve published maybe 75,000 words on the subject, including an eight-part series titled “Great Barbecues of Texas” for the Voice‘s food blog, Fork in the Road. I may have been born in Michigan, but when it comes to barbecue, I know what the hell I’m talking about.

And while it’s taken a quarter century to get our act together, New York isn’t playing either: We have developed a fantastic collection of pits. These tend to be inspired by Texas barbecue, which arose from the black-dirt farm country east of Austin—German immigrant towns where barbecue first bloomed around 1900; we even have one place (Hill Country Barbecue Market) trying to replicate the output of a single pit, the one at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas. What we lack in regional DNA, we make up for in our range—and the fact that we are finally starting to get it right. New York can offer up the full gamut of ‘cue, from the St. Louis style at Blue Smoke (and the now-defunct R.U.B.) to Oklahoma (Mable’s Smokehouse), Kansas City (John Brown Smokehouse), Memphis (Neely’s Barbecue Parlor, Virgil’s Real Barbecue), North Carolina (Brother Jimmy’s BBQ), and even Syracuse, New York, an unlikely barbecue destination if ever there was one (Dinosaur Bar-B-Que).

True, barbecue doesn’t come naturally to New Yorkers, and our relationship with it has always been a bit rocky. It began, improbably, with a hairdresser from London. Robert Pearson went to the Texas capital to teach mod hairstyles to beauticians in the 1980s, and came back inspired enough to found Stick to Your Ribs in Connecticut, moving to Long Island City in 1992. With its emphasis on smoking slowly over real hardwoods with low, indirect heat, Stick to Your Ribs became the city’s first serious BBQ. In his former warehouse near the mouth of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, Pearson de-emphasized sauce—though he offered four, with heat levels ranging from mild to “mean”—to highlight the smoky taste of the meat. As he told The New York Times in 1988, “People miss the point. They ask for extra sauce. Sauce is the accompaniment, not the thing of interest.”

Much more recently, Daniel Delaney was similarly transported at a 2010 food festival in New Orleans by the brisket of Wayne Mueller (pitmaster of Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, Texas). “It redefined barbecue for me,” he wrote later. “I had no clue anything smoked for so long could taste so good.” Delaney made his own pilgrimage to central Texas, and returned dragging an 18-foot smoker behind a U-Haul. He first used it to barbecue beef for Brisket Lab, a series of 31 pop-up feasts in the summer of 2012, which materialized, among other places, in a church in Greenpoint, on the roof of the Gizmodo headquarters on the Lower East Side, and in a Dutch cemetery in Flatbush. Now, he peddles his way-smoky brisket at BrisketTown, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge.

Danny Meyer had a hand in our BBQ surge, too, when he opened Blue Smoke 11 years ago—splicing a barbecue joint to a jazz club for what might be the first time outside Memphis. Now he’s selling authentic Kansas City ribs at the Citi Field home of the Mets and in Battery Park City, too, which is something of a culinary miracle. And his pitmaster and founding partner Kenny Callaghan has shown unswerving fidelity to using real hardwood in his smokers.

Meyer and Callaghan also started the popular Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, an annual summer event that brings prominent maestros from all over the country to Madison Square, where they play to legions of meat lovers. And just last year, Hill Country hosted modern Austin barbecue auteur Aaron Franklin. He imported the technique of smoking brisket longer than even old-time Texas places do it—a whopping 15 hours or more. Gotham ‘cue-masters have imitated the practice, and now our briskets couldn’t get any smokier. I asked Franklin if he’d ever thought of opening a place in New York City. “No, it’s way too much trouble up here,” he replied with a laugh. “You’ve got to import the wood, and do things on such a big scale.”


Barbecue never sleeps. It is continually evolving. And the country’s greatest pits have always been defined by their quirks. In our innocence of ‘cue—in the absence of our own traditions—New York was able to absorb the outside influences, helped along by a small cadre of tong-wielding fanatics. We bow to no one. Even if our black dirt is just rat shit.

Here are 10 things that give our (emerging) tradition its character:

1. Beyond baby back. Mighty Quinn’s does a beef rib as big as an Irish shillelagh in Gangs of New York. Fatty and blackened, it sails in still on the bone. In Texas, only Louie Mueller’s and the County Line chain do a rib that approaches it in size, while most barbecue joints use pork ribs. Blue Smoke, Fette SauWildwood Barbeque, and Daisy May’s BBQ do giant beef ribs, too. Everything’s bigger in New York.

2. Leaning in to Lamb. With the exception of places in Llano, Texas, and Owensboro, Kentucky, where joints smoke lamb and mutton, respectively, most barbecues stick to pork and beef, with an occasional nod to chicken. Inspired by the Middle Eastern presence in its Long Island City neighborhood, John Brown Smokehouse tosses slender lamb sausages into the pit, tapping the real Queens terroir. 

3. Brisket-obsessed. Daniel Delaney isn’t the only one in New York to elevate brisket to his No. 1 meat, as he does at BrisketTown. Robert Pearson did it long ago at Stick to Your Ribs, and the tradition continues at Ranger Texas Barbecue. Born into a Texas family, Hugh Mangum has made it the centerpiece of his menu at Mighty Quinn’s, and brisket is front and center on about half the menus in town.

4. Link bait. New York barbecues have long realized the importance of sausages. Hill Country actually imports its beef sausages from its Lockhart mentor, Kreuz Market. For a time, Mable’s Smokehouse imported their bright red hot links from Oklahoma, and it’s been known to do the occasional alligator-venison number. But most NYC barbecues have stayed local: Pearson used kielbasa at Stick to Your Ribs and hot Italian is the link of choice at Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue. “We tried Texas hot links,” says pitmaster Matt Fisher, “and thought about kielbasa, but spicy Italian sausage just fit much better with our Brooklyn-barbecue theme.”

5. Fearless about Chicken. Hill Country is the first barbecue to offer beer-can chicken, not normally a barbecue option in Lockhart or anywhere else, while Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue and the  Smoke Joint do wings with a nice smoky flavor—all attempts to solve the rubber-skin chicken problem that makes many venerable pits avoid poultry. Channeling the great Jamaican jerk parlors of Flatbush, Wildwood Barbeque does crisp-skinned jerk chicken wings with a lingering burn.

6. Embracing our french side. Slices of white bread, spongy and anemic, are still served in Texas barbecues. Pearson kicked it up a notch with torpedo-shaped Portuguese rolls at Stick to Your Ribs. But Mighty Quinn’s went to the gloriously effete extreme of laying out their sandwiches on brioche rolls. “The combination of the buttery bread and the fatty brisket really worked for me,” Mangum told me recently. Other parlors in town freestyle tiny potato rolls (Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue), thick Texas toasts (John Brown Smokehouse), or no bread at all.

7. Less god, more beer. You’re lucky if you can get a beer in some Texas barbecues, which are often located in dry counties. Many North Carolina barbecues don’t sell beer for religious reasons. New Yorkers, unsurprisingly, don’t let God interfere with their drinking, and places like Fette Sau and John Brown Smokehouse deliver lots of craft beers on tap.

8. And whiskey. If mere beer won’t get you where you need to go, Astoria newcomer Strand Smokehouse offers whiskey drawn from giant kegs. Fette Sau champions American whiskeys, too, while Neely’s Barbecue Parlor and Fort Reno Provisions offer fancy mixed drinks. Hill Country hosts karaoke with a live band in the basement.

9. Nose-to-tail smokin’. New York pitmasters are experimentalists in a way that Kansas City’s, say, are not. Fette Sau toys with pig cheeks, chops, and belly; at one time it even played around with pig tails. John Brown Smokehouse does pork belly, too, jamming it into a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mayo and calling it the PBLT. Fletcher’s smokes Chinese char siu pork, and produces an amazing facsimile of a North Carolina pulled pork sandwich, complete with vinegar slaw. Brother Jimmy’s does great Brunswick stew, the thick leftover barbecue soup from North Carolina and Virginia. Fort Reno Povisions layers BBQ and sides into a parfait called a “hot mess.”

10. ‘Cue meets jew.  The proximity of great delis like Katz’s and Second Avenue Deli has been an irresistible force for NYC barbecuers. Fette Sau was the first place to attempt pastrami, but John Brown Smokehouse and Strand Smokehouse have followed suit. 

Yes, Gotham has the most varied collection of barbecues in the country—something we can be very proud of. And now if we could get more Carolina ‘cue (lots of places here attempt it, but with little success), and maybe some from northern Kentucky, we’d be completely happy. And if it came with a nice Barolo, we’d be in heaven.


Five Great Do-It-Yourself Things to Do for New Year’s, NYC

Really, standing and shivering in Times Square for eight hours without peeing or drinking any alcohol (!) is about the worst way to spend New Year’s that FiTR can think of. Here are five alternatives that will cause your friends to admire you and fill up the evening with good clean fun.

1. Make a tortilla hat with an indentation on top for salsa, then wear it to a New Year’s Party. Encourage your best friends to double dip!

2. Stage a possum drop at midnight in Central Park. The residents of Brasstown, North Carolina, show you how. This video, featuring a string band, a Honey Boo Boo look-alike, and drag queens with beards captures an event that occurs every New Year’s in Brasstown, where a possum is put in a box and dropped at midnight. Much better than a crystal ball in Times Square, and you can drink moonshine, too! (Unfortunately, a lawsuit by PETA has nixed the ceremony this year.)

3. Break dishes against the door of your neighbor’s house or apartment at midnight, the way they do it in Denmark.

4. In Ecuador, women do sexy dances in the street, holding up traffic, then burn effigies of their husbands at midnight on New Year’s [NSFW].

5. Have a New Year’s-resolution party, in which all the guests write their resolutions on little pieces of paper, read at midnight as toasts. The funnier the better, and here are some from the website I Love India:

Remember to brush teeth with bristly end of toothbrush.

Don’t eat medicine just because it looks like candy.

Always replace the gas nozzle before driving away from the pump.

I will always “check for paper” when leaving the restroom.

I will keep an extra safe distance when driving behind police cars.

I will not bore my boss with the same excuse for taking leaves. I will think of some more excuses.

I will do less laundry and use more deodorant.

I will avoid taking a bath whenever possible and conserve more water.

I will give up chocolates totally. 100%. Completely. Honestly!

I will try to figure out why I really need nine e-mail addresses.

I resolve to work with neglected children — my own.

I will spend less than one hour a day on the Internet. This, of course, will be hard to estimate since I’m not a clock watcher.

I will think of a password other than “password.”

Read fewer books. A little learning is a dangerous thing. Too much of it can really wreck your head.

Watch more TV. It’s very educational. Catch up on all those programs you missed down the years.

I will not wet the bed and blame it on my younger brother/sister.


Hollywood to Dollywood

As much a road movie as it is a subtle screed on civil rights, John Lavin’s Hollywood to Dollywood follows two openly gay brothers as they travel from one eponymous location to the other for the sole purpose of handing a spec script to their idol, Dolly Parton. To the uninitiated observer, much of this will no doubt seem strange—it certainly did to this writer—but we’ve reached a point at which any documentary handling such oft-sensationalized subject matter as this in an evenhanded manner is a welcome exception. Neither the brothers (Gary and Larry Lane) nor Lavin himself ever turn this story into a manipulative tearjerker—which would have been easy to do, given how genuinely sad it is at its core. The two North Carolinians spend an inordinate amount of time explaining away their Southern Baptist mother’s inability to accept their homosexuality, continually passing it off as inherited cultural baggage that takes time to resolve itself. Parton, meanwhile, emerges as a near-mythical figure whose laid-back acceptance makes her surprisingly likable: “I think I’ve always been accepted in the gay community because I accept them,” she says at one point in archival footage. (It’s still a bit difficult to imagine her watching the Lanes map out every detail of their scheme without being a little weirded out.) Even at a lean 81 minutes, though, Hollywood to Dollywood occasionally gets tiresome; what it does minute to minute is often less interesting than what it represents.


Anthony Hamilton+Estelle

Last year this North Carolina neo-soul crooner released the strongest album in a career of very strong albums. So far, though, Back to Love has failed to elevate Hamilton to the r&b A-list on which he belongs. Check him out tonight to see what a shame that is. With Estelle, whose All of Me hasn’t quite clicked the way it was anticipated to.

Thu., Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m., 2012